Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 23, 2010

Sermon for the Festival of the Coming of the Holy Spirit (2010)

COME, HOLY SPIRIT!

  1. Come and testify to us about Jesus
  2. Help us testify to others about Jesus

 Text: John 15:26-27

Introduction

The WELS Arizona-California District Convention will take place early this summer in the Phoenix area.  I will be there along with a lay delegate from our congregation.  It’s not uncommon for pastors to bring their families along with them to the convention; this year will be the first time that my family comes along with me.  Our oldest daughter is already excited about this trip!  She’s been talking about it at home and at school and anywhere else someone will listen to her describe this trip.  She has the same kind of excitement children express when a birthday, a holiday, or another special event is just around the corner.  Children get excited when they know something special is coming!

Today is Pentecost Day, the festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I doubt that our church’s children woke up this morning all excited for Pentecost like they would be for Christmas!  But for the past few weeks, the Gospel reading in church has directed us to think about this special event that has finally arrived this morning.  On the Sundays leading up to Pentecost, we typically hear excerpts from Jesus’ words to his disciples on Maundy Thursday, taken from John chapters 13-17.  In those words, Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure from this world and for the day he would send the Holy Spirit to give a special “jump start” to the Holy Christian Church.  You heard about the Day of Pentecost in today’s Second Lesson, and today’s Gospel includes words Jesus spoke to prepare his disciples for that day.  As we look at Jesus’ words in this sermon, we want to take his words and apply them to a prayer Christians have been speaking and singing for centuries: Come, Holy Spirit!  Come and testify to us about Jesus.  Help us testify to others about Jesus.

I.

During the sermon a couple of weeks ago, we talked about a special term for the Holy Spirit that Jesus used in John chapter 14.  He uses the same term in today’s Gospel from John 15.  The Greek word is paraklatos, or “Paraclete” in English.  That term comes up again in today’s Gospel, and once again it is translated “Counselor.”  Jesus said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”  It’s hard to capture that special term, “Paraclete,” in English.  But Jesus wanted his disciples to know that after his Ascension, he would send them the Holy Spirit to be a unique Counselor and Comforter, an Advocate and Encourager, a Helper who would bless and guide their work as the spiritual leaders of the infant Christian Church.

I want to introduce another term to you.  It’s not in our reading, but it’s a Latin word that has something to do with this reading.  The term is filioque; it means, “and the Son.”  When we recite the Nicene Creed in worship, we begin the third section saying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father and the Son” – filioque in the original Latin version of the Creed.  This one little Word caused quite a stir in the Christian Church many centuries ago.  Churches in the Eastern tradition don’t use that little phrase “and the Son” when they speak the Nicene Creed; churches in the Western tradition do—and that includes Lutherans.  There was disagreement as to whether or not Jesus, God the Son, sends the Holy Spirit into the world to do his work in human hearts, or whether the Spirit is only sent out by God the Father.

Listen to verse 26 again and see if you can determine the correct answer.  “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”  Here Jesus says that he will send them the Holy Spirit, even as the Father also sends out the Spirit.

Some have suggested that the reason Eastern churches did not include the phrase, “and the Son,” in the Creed is because historically they did not focus on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ as much as the Western church had.  But Jesus’ words have something to say about that tendency as well.  The Spirit’s job is to point people to Jesus: “[The Spirit] will testify about me.”  The Greek word for “testify” is pronounced martyreo.  We get the English word “martyr” from this term.  Martyrs were willing to die for their testimony, because they knew what they were saying was true.  And the Holy Spirit came to testify about Jesus because the “Spirit of truth” knows that the gospel is not just a story to tell; it is a fact to be proclaimed.  The Spirit’s task—and the Church’s task—is to testify to Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate Pentecost today, we are not waiting for a repeat of the Pentecost miracle of the disciples speaking in different languages.  Perhaps that miracle seems like the most noteworthy occurrence of the first Pentecost.  But think about the purpose of that miracle.  God used that miracle to proclaim the message of Jesus’ redeeming work.  The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and used that miracle to testify about Jesus’ work to thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem who had been waiting for the Messiah—and now they learned that he had come!

What would be the best way for us to celebrate Pentecost today?  Should I have read the Scripture lessons in Greek and Hebrew?  Or would that miss the point?  Maybe the way to celebrate the Holy Spirit’s work on this day is to allow the Spirit to testify about Jesus through the tools he uses to sustain faith—the means of grace, the gospel in Word and sacraments.

Ah, but familiarity breeds contempt.  That’s all we seem to talk about around here.  Word and sacrament; gospel, gospel, gospel.  It’s been all “Jesus talk” in this church for as long as we can remember—the same old same old.  So will it be any harm if I distract myself from the sermon by reading the church news or chatting to those around me or wondering about my upcoming week?  Since it’s the same old message, will it be any harm if I come a little less frequently, or if my spiritual intake only takes place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Sunday?

If our familiarity with the gospel breeds contempt, isn’t that contempt still ultimately against God?  And doesn’t God have every right to righteously condemn us for our contempt of his grace and salvation?

But look at what he has done!  Our sinful flesh feels contempt for the old familiar gospel.  But the Spirit still testifies about Jesus to us through that gospel.  The Holy Spirit has produced faith in your heart through the gospel message and changed your status from stubborn sinner to saved saint.  The Holy Spirit has taken the holiness of Jesus and given it to you at the font.  The Holy Spirit has taken the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus and applies it to you in the Savior’s Holy Supper.  The Holy Spirit has taken the forgiveness and redemption of Jesus won at the cross and declares it to be yours in the Scriptures.  This is the glorious work of the Spirit—to take us always (and only!) to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, which testifies to the saving grace of God that he delivers to our hearts.

II.

Last week Thursday was “Call Day” at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.  There was a concern several months ago that as many as half the graduates would not receive calls into the ministry due to a lack of places for them to serve.  Thankfully, the number of graduates who will need to wait for an assignment was only four (not to diminish the difficulty for those four men!); last year the number was 13.  Just last month the last graduate from last year’s class was finally assigned.  This is a problem we haven’t seen in our synod for quite some time.  I hope this situation doesn’t remain in our circles for long, because it surely is a shame that young men with four years of Seminary training would not be able to put that education to work in God’s kingdom.

I suppose we could call Pentecost the “Call Day” for Jesus’ disciples.  They had been training in “Jesus Seminary” for three years.  Now it was time to put all that training to work for the spread of God’s kingdom.  That’s what Jesus referred to in verse 27 of our reading.  “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”  Our translation says, “You…must testify,” but Jesus’ original words were simply, “You will testify.”  This was their Pentecost task!  They had been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry.  They saw his ministry and miracles, his passion and death, his conquering victory and ascended triumph.  And so the Spirit came on them miraculously on Pentecost to help them testify about Jesus to the gathered pilgrims in Jerusalem.

The Holy Spirit aided the disciples’ proclamation on Pentecost with a miraculous gift that enabled them to speak in other languages.  What an astounding sight and sound that must have been!  As much as we might like to experience a repeat of that particular Pentecost miracle, we have no promise or prediction from God that he will repeat that miracle among us today.  But our assignment to testify to others about Jesus is still the same.  The apostle Peter, the one who addressed the crowd’s skeptics in the Second Lesson, once wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

We need the Holy Spirit’s help to carry out this mission to testify to others about Jesus.  We have a force inside our hearts, our sinful nature, that is convinced that the simple gospel message about Jesus is not going to be enough to bring people to God.  Consider the thoughts once written by the late A.W. Tozer from 1955 in a book called The Roots of the Righteous.

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was—a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.  For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world.  But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle.  She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.  So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven.  Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God.  Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency.  And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.

We don’t have to jump on the entertainment bandwagon—a bandwagon that was already around in the middle of the last century based on the previous quote.  We don’t need a stunning miracle or catchy gimmick to testify to others about Jesus.  We simply need what the Holy Spirit gives us to aid our ministry and strengthen our faith.  We have the pardon Jesus won for us at the cross for every moment our trust has waned and sin has won the day.  We have his forgiveness to fill our hearts with his peace and to overflow from our hearts into words that testify about Jesus’ saving grace to others.

And so we pray: Come, Holy Spirit!  Come with the grace and pardon of Jesus that erases guilt, that forgives sin, that calms hearts, and that gives an eternal future in heaven to us and to those who come to faith through our witness and the faithful witness of others.  Come to us, O Holy Spirit, and

Give to your Word impressive power

That in our hearts from this good hour

As fire it may be glowing,

That in true Christian unity

We faithful witnesses may be,

Your glory ever showing.

Hear us, cheer us

By your teaching; let our preaching

And our labor

Praise, you, Lord, and serve our neighbor.

(Christian Worship #184, st. 2)

Amen.

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